Language is another characteristic of the nation that plays a huge role in its history.
Mapudungün (from dungün ‘speech, speak and mapu ‘land, earth’) is a language which is spoken in west central Argentina and south-central Chile by Mapuche people (che ‘people’ and mapu ‘earth’). Its spelling is Mapudungu or Mapuzugün. It used to be previously recognized as Araucanian. In fact, Spanish people has given this name to the Mapuche. But the Mapuche are actually avoiding it as it reminds them of colonialism of Spain, and it’s perceived as offensive.
Mapudungün isn’t an official language in Argentina or Chile. This language has received literally no support from government throughout its history. Mapudungün isn’t used as an instruction language in either educational system of the country except for the government of Chile commitment, which is to provide complete access to literacy and education in Mapuche regions in south Chile. On top of that, there’s a continuing political debate about what alphabet to implement as the standard alphabet of Mapudungun. There are around 144,000 of native speakers in Chile and approximately 8,400 more in west central Argentina. Merely 2,5 percent of speakers in the city and 16% of speakers in the country speak Mapudungun when communicating with children, however only 3.8% of speakers between ages 10 and 19 years in the southern Chile actually know the language.
As soon as the Spanish people settled down in Chile, they found few groups of Mapuche people speaking the language in the area of Araucanía. Because of this the Spanish called them araucanos: the Pehuenche (from the Moluche (from molu ‘west’) and pewen ‘monkey puzzle tree’), the Huilliche (from willi ‘south’) and the Picunche (from che ‘people’ and pikum ‘north’). Spanish conquered the Picunche very rapidly. On the other hand, the Huilliche weren’t combined until the eighteenth century. The only language spoken in central Chile was Mapudungun. The Mapuche sociolinguistic situation has changed fast. Now, the majority of Mapuche population is monolingual in Spanish or bilingual. The extent of their bilingualism is based on how much do they participate in Chilean society, the community itself, and the personal choice about the modern/urban or traditional way of life.
There is also certain lexical influence from Quechua (warangka ‘thousand’ and pataka ‘hundred’) and Spanish.
The Mapuche never had a writing system before the Spanish conquerors arrived. In addition to that, the language has been written with the Latin script since then. In fact, the orthography that is used in this blog post is based on Alfabeto Mapuche Unificado – the system utilized by Chilean linguists and other people in many publications in the language – the competing Azumchefi, Nhewenh, and Ragileo systems all now have their supporters, and there is still no agreement among linguists, authorities, and Mapuche community itself. The same word might look absolutely different in every system, with the word for “story or conversation” being written either ngütram or gvxam, for example.
Now you can see how the language issues shaped the history of Mapuche. You can read more about the Mapuche traditions, beliefs and people in my next blog posts.